Literary Orange 2014: Victoria Chang

A few years ago, at one of the last poetry readings of the now defunct Reading Series at the Casa Romantica in San Clemente, I discovered the work of poet Victoria Chang.  That night I picked up a copy of Work Backward, a CD produced during the third year of the series, which includes Chang reading two of her poems aloud.  One of these is “Seven Changs”, which I love and listen to often. 

When I learned that Victoria Chang will be on a poetry panel at this year’s Literary Orange (the yearly author festival of OC Public Libraries coming up on April 5th ), I knew that I wanted to read at least one of her collections in order to introduce you, our Book Talk readers, to her work. 

I chose first to read Chang’s 2005 collection, Circle, which won the Crab Orchard Review Open Competition Award.  I next plan to read her Salvinia Molesta (2008) and her most recent collection, The Boss (2013).  Although I am a poetry lover, I should note here that my undergraduate degree is not in literature, so you are definitely getting a layperson’s feelings about Victoria Chang’s work here and not  literary analysis.  But hopefully this may encourage you to pick up Chang’s and other poets’ works to read -- poetry is for everyone, no matter what our background.  I would go so far as to say that everyone needs poetry, but that’s another blog entry.
A major theme of Circle which stood out to me was that of romantic relationships, along with the subthemes of the search for love/connection, communication difficulties, jealousy, and women feeling unappreciated or trapped in unhealthy relationships.   One poem on these themes which I really enjoyed was “Man in the White Truck”, which Chang also reads aloud on the Work Backward album. I believe that this poem concerns the pursuit of a love that ultimately cannot be, and the narrator appears to reveal how her love interest actually feels when she writes, “And I wonder / why I am not on your list of the ten most stolen…”  Some of the other themes of the collection include parent-child relationships and the common female experience.  On these themes I especially enjoyed the poems “Holiday Parties” and “Year of the Bombshell” respectively. 

I really enjoyed the entire collection of poems in Circle and it is impossible to pick a favorite.  Chang’s poems are honest and original, creative and far-ranging in their subjects, and most of all, highly accessible.  But I did want to close with a few lines of the aforementioned “Seven Changs” which I feel illustrate Chang’s ability to combine honesty with humor.  The themes of this poem appear to me to be ambition, feelings of not measuring up and the often-thwarted desire to be unique, and it opens with: “At night your growth rate doubles and each morning I spot / yet another Chang / in the newspaper, staring at me with its dull lamps.  I limp up / a mountainside / towards a growing opal.  Oracle, is this the way up to the little office / with orange lights?” 

I highly encourage you to check out and read a collection of Victoria Chang’s poetry and come hear her speak at Literary Orange!

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